Springtime is here. Apart from us humans, there are many other species that’ll join us in welcoming the thaw. Among these are bugs.
Numbering in the trillions, arthropods of all sorts of shapes and sizes, ranging from being pesky annoyances to life-threatening critters, will all return or emerge from their hibernation hidey-holes, and quickly make your home theirs too as the temperature rises.
In this article, we list the most “popular” critters you can expect to visit your home this spring, and how you can best deal with them.
Mosquitoes hibernate during the winter, then emerge in spring as temperatures rise. Most species of mosquitoes become more active once temperatures reach the 50-degree (F) level and thrive especially in hot weather. Their numbers usually peak during the hot summer months, but spring is where they begin to multiply and begin their blood-sucking spree.
These tiny bloodsuckers can be irritating, as they “bite” into your skin to suck your blood for a meal; it’s not the bite per se that causes swelling, redness and itching at the bite site, but their saliva. Each time a mosquito successfully pierces your skin with their proboscis to suck your blood, they pump some saliva into your bloodstream that acts as an anti-coagulant to keep the blood from clotting and sealing off the tiny incision they make into your skin.
Once a mosquito has had its fill, it flies off and leaves some of its saliva on the bite site, which your skin reacts to by swelling up and itching. The resulting itching and swelling from a mosquito bite is a minor annoyance, and can easily be remedied with a spot of calamine lotion.
A mosquito bite can only be serious if the mosquito happens to carry one of a number of more serious diseases. Mosquitoes have been known to carriers of deadly diseases like:
- West Nile Virus
- Dengue fever
- Yellow fever
- Chikungunya virus
- Zika virus
You can read up more about these mosquito-borne diseases and how to remedy them in this article. Note that most of these diseases result in high fever, muscle and joint pain, and severe headaches. More serious symptoms can include encephalitis (brain swelling) and microcephaly (stunting of brain growth) in babies and fetuses in pregnant women in the case of the Zika virus.
Preparing for Mosquitoes
Thankfully, there are a number of measures you can take to protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes. The most important measure is to make your home and environs less habitable by mosquitoes. Some of the preventive steps include:
- Remove any standing water that’s accumulated in empty containers like drums, barrels, old tires, tin cans, pots, buckets, or wherever water could accumulate, like wheelbarrows and bird baths.
- Properly dispose of trash and discarded items that can hold stagnant water which can host mosquito eggs.
- Properly cover your swimming pool (if you have one) when not in use.
- Make sure to fix any damaged screen doors and windows, and keep windows and doors closed, or use the screen windows and doors.
- Clear out any clogged gutters or drains; these will likely be blocked up by debris like dead leaves, and water can accumulate in them. On a warm day, carefully inspect and clear out your roof’s gutters.
- Fix any cracks in outer walls. These can accumulate water and provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes; remember that mosquitoes can lay eggs in as little as a teaspoon of standing water.
- Remove any hollow logs and tree stumps on your property; these may have surfaces that can accumulate water.
- Fix any leaks in your roof or interior walls and ceilings; any leaks can create pools of standing water.
- Wear light-colored clothing; mosquitoes are attracted to darker-colored clothes.
- Don’t hang around outdoors if you begin to sweat; mosquitoes are strongly attracted by sweat and lactic acid.
- Use mosquito repellent if you’re going to be outdoors for extended periods.
Another tiny bloodsucker like the mosquito, albeit a terrestrial, wingless one that comes with spring, is the tick. These tiny parasites should warrant special attention since we’ve been experiencing a spike as recently as 2017 in the most serious tick-borne disease, Lyme disease, in warmer states like Florida and California. Other states like Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia also had a significant rise in the number of Lyme disease cases since 2015.
Unlike mosquitoes, ticks and tick bites may be harder to detect as they’re much smaller and their bite is often hardly felt. Usually you won’t know you’ve been bitten by a tick and it’s fallen off, unless you develop the telltale “bulls-eye” rash on the bite area. Fortunately, in the same way that not all mosquito bites transmit a disease, not all tick bites result in Lyme disease either.
For you to contract Lyme Disease, the black-legged tick (or deer tick) that bites you must carry any one of four main types of bacteria. In the U.S., this would most likely be either the Borrelia burgdorferi or the Borrelia mayonii bacteria. The other two bacteria, Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are endemic to Europe and Asia.
The duration of the bite of an infected tick is also a factor in getting Lyme disease; if the tick is attached to its victim for less than 36 to 48 hours, the likelihood of infection is significantly less.
Preparing for Ticks
Blacklegged or Deer ticks are called that for a reason; many deer populations carry them and the adult ticks depend on deer to feed and reproduce. If you live near or in states that have thriving deer populations, there’s an increased risk of getting bitten by ticks that have Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. If you can’t move away, there are measures that you can take to avoid, or reduce the chances of getting bitten by ticks.
Here’s what you can do:
- Get your dog vaccinated. Apart from you, ticks just love to attach themselves to and feed on the family dog. You can easily miss a tick on your dog, so it’s best to get him vaccinated in case he picks up a Lyme disease-carrying critter.
- Before you camp out or go hunting for deer, cover up. Don’t go out in the woods in shorts, and tuck your pants into your boots or socks. Wear light-colored clothes to make it easier to spot ticks and remove them.
- Avoid walking through tall grass or standing in areas where there’s a lot of vegetation; ticks can’t fly but they can lie in wait in grassy areas to hop onto unsuspecting victims.
- Use insect repellent as instructed. Choose a repellent with 20% DEET, which can repel insects like ticks and mosquitoes for several hours.
- Mow your lawn. If you need a good reason to do this tedious but important task, it’s to avoid having tall grass that can be hospitable to ticks.
- Clear your yard or lawn of any debris and dead leaves; these are great hiding spots for ticks.
- Shower immediately after being outdoors, especially after trekking in the woods. Taking a shower can rid yourself of ticks before they bite.
- Do your laundry. If you were outdoors, immediately put your clothes in the washer, and use hot water. Dry them in high heat.
Another early-riser when spring comes along are wasps. There are several types of wasps, but the ones you will likely encounter will be the Paper Wasps, named such due to their penchant for making paper nests.
These winged nectar-feeding arthropods gather plant stem pieces and dead wood fibers, then mix them with their saliva to create the brown paper-like pulp to mold their nests, which are umbrella-shaped and comprised of many hexagonal-shaped “cells.” These wasps often build them under a horizontal surface like tree branches, overhangs, eaves, attic supports or ceilings, garages, sheds and other similar spots.
During spring, queen wasps emerge from hibernation and work feverishly to establish a new colony. It’s during this time that worker wasps will consume a predominantly-sugary diet to give them the energy to forage for more food, build nests and rear the colony’s young.
Hornets, another type of wasp, like to construct a large, football-shaped nest with smooth exterior walls and interior cells. Yellow Jacket Wasps usually make their nests in a concealed spot, and their secretive nest can house thousands of wasps.
Preparing for wasps
Wasps in early spring can be less in number as this is the time that they’re often just “building up” the colony. At first they may not be a nuisance, but remember that they could number in the hundreds by the time summer rolls in. Depending on where they establish their nest, you can simply avoid and ignore them. But if you have any pets or small children and their nest is in close proximity, you may have to consult a professional exterminator to get rid of them.
If the colony doesn’t pose any threat, here are some measures to help manage any wasp colonies in your area, and avoid getting stung:
- Don’t leave any sugary drinks out in the open as these will most certainly attract wasps.
- Dispose of all food and drinks properly; never leave any soda cans or bottles exposed.
- Check all sugary drinks for any wasps before consuming them.
- Avoid having any clutter that wasps can use to put nests in.
- Don’t wear strong perfumes.
- Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing if you’re going to be anywhere near wasp nests.
- Keep any pets and small children away from areas close to wasp nests.
- Wear closed shoes.
- Check for wasps and observe their activity before doing any yard or garden work.
- Avoid having any large gatherings near a nest.
- Never attempt to remove a wasp nest yourself. Consult a professional.
- Swat at or swing your arms at a wasp, this will trigger an attack response.
- Try to “play dead”, they’ll continue to sting.
- Try to jump into a lake or swimming pool to escape them, they’ll only wait for you to surface and attack.
- If you flail your arms, you could only antagonize them more and they won’t ease up on you, and may even signal more wasps to attack.
- Kill any wasps. Dead wasps emit a pheromone that signals other wasps to attack.
- Remain still if a wasp gets close to you.
- Run away in a straight line, without flailing your arms about or screaming in panic.
- Keep your head and face covered, these are their most likely targets.
Like their larger, paper-nest-building cousins the wasps, bees present a similar challenge. Bees quickly multiply and can number in the thousands, and this can be a bit worrying especially if the colony is close to areas frequented by pets or small children. It can be even more worrisome if the bees on your property turn out to be Africanized Killer Bees. If you suspect the bees are Killer Bees, read this article.
Preparing for Bees
Just like wasps, bees can be left alone and avoided as long as their nest is a safe distance from anything that can trigger an attack response. Here are measures you can take to prepare for or manage any bee colonies on your property:
- As with wasps, don’t leave any sugary drinks or food out in the open; bees, like wasps, will be out foraging for sugar-laden nectar to fuel their hectic day.
- Dispose of any trash properly, ensuring that the trash receptacle lids are sealed securely.
- Should a bee wander into your room during the daytime, shut off any lights and open a window; the bee will fly towards the light.
- If you find a bee (or wasp) inside your car while driving, pull over and open all the windows to let it fly out. Don’t try to swat it.
- If you absolutely can’t avoid having a gathering near a bee or wasp nest, place some sprigs of fresh mint around the food, and your plate; bees and wasps are repelled by the strong scent of mint.
- Avoid wearing strong perfume.
- Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing and patterns that resemble flowers (Hawaiian shirts are a no-no); bees will mistake you for a flower patch and try to gather nectar from you.
- Avoid making or using any device that makes a loud noise near the bees’ nest or hive. Noise can cause them to become aggressive.
In the case of bees, apart from taking the prescribed precautions, you should consult a professional to determine what type of bees they are. If they’re honey bees or bumblebees, you are advised not to kill any of the bees as these are beneficial species. Honey bees should be treated with care, as these are endangered.
These insects are just a small sample of the many bugs you’ll likely encounter as the season progresses and temperatures rise. They may not all be pests that carry diseases, but they do bring with them a host of other problems like aggressive stinging or biting. There may be other insects endemic to your area that you’ll have to prepare for, so read up and take the necessary precautions to deal with them. For all insect types, the key is to avoid any unpleasant insect infestations or problems, consistently dispose of your trash properly, keep trash lids securely sealed, clear out any items you don’t need from your attic or garage and store the items you do need in plastic bins (cardboard boxes attract roaches and other pests).
Do your share of “spring cleaning” and don’t wait for any insect problem to get out of hand and warrant an exterminator, or worse, a hospital visit.